Plenti celebrated its first birthday in May 2016. The multi-partner loyalty program owned and operated by American Express includes pillar partners Macy’s, ATT, Rite Aid, ExxonMobil, Nationwide Insurance, Enterprise Rental Car, Hulu, and Direct Energy. I joined the program when it launched in May 2015 and thought it would be an interesting experiment to track communications from Plenti throughout the year. Setting a 1 year horizon for any project in today’s “goldfish” attention span world seemed almost unrealistic, but the year passed quickly and we gained some interesting insights into the methods and focus of the Plenti program.
The marketing mix employed by Plenti to build brand awareness among the general public and to drive enrollment has been principally driven by signage at partner brick and mortar locations, supported by a series of television ads. The TV ads were sprinkled throughout 2015 with a spike during the NFL playoff season. The Happy Together message was a good one to gain the attention of nostalgic-prone Boomers and seems to have paid off as Plenti reported membership exceeding 20 Million in its first 2 months. I’m still waiting for the music versions that might turn heads among Gen X’ers and Millennials as the program personality to-date seems to be skewed to traditional consumers of loyalty programs.
The early days of Plenti saw sporadic, but progressive brand impressions created at the Point-of-Sale by Plenti partners. From the very beginning of my interactions with the program in May/June 2015, I noticed signage in Macy’s on entry doors and at cash registers. Store associates seemed well informed about the program and consistently inquired whether I was a member and if I knew how to earn points. In that same time frame, ExxonMobil was the only other partner I noticed to display signage at the point of purchase, and pump-toppers became more noticeable as the summer of 2015 progressed. Because I am a tenured ATT Wireless customer, I continually checked for Plenti messages in retail stores and online, but it was not until late in the fall that ATT seemed to join in the marketing communications plan. It was not until early 2016 that I was directly offered an opportunity by ATT to affiliate my account with Plenti and to begin earning points.
As a Plenti member, the principal, maybe the only, means of communication has been via email. While there is a Plenti Facebook page and a Twitter account, each one operates in broadcast-only mode. It is particularly interesting to see the Plenti Twitter account operating as a “celebrity” account, meaning that while 16,000 or so are following the account as of this writing, there are only a dozen or so followed back. That balance doesn’t allow for much dialogue or two-way conversation about the program, its partners, and the opportunities for all parties.
The Email train gained steam slowly as it departed the station in May 2015. Though the program launched in May, outside of a Welcome Email in that month, I received only a handful of email communications during the first 6 months of the program through the end of October. At that point, the pace quickened with an average of 4-5 emails in November – January, with a slight uptick to 7 in February. Plenti hit what may be considered their “tempo pace”, i.e. a cadence sustainable for the long run, over the last 3 months of its inaugural year, sending 11-13 emails in each month March – May 2016. As of this date in June 2016, I have received 10 emails, so the tempo pace seems to be holding true.
The content of email delivered by Plenti is the most telling indicator that defines Plenti’s consumer value proposition. Each Email highlights a specific partner offer and it is usually tied to a specific product being promoted by the partner. Examples of recent offers include “Double points on all athletic wear at Macy’s”, “2,500 points to add a new line at ATT”, “100 points on the next fuel purchase of 10 or more gallons at ExxonMobil”. About 50% of emails received are focused on these product-specific partner offers, while most of the remainder tout “Double Point” and similar offers for shopping with Plenti’s online merchant partners (Dell, Lowe’s, Omaha Steaks, Overstock, etc.).
Sprinkled among the online and offline partner offers, there have been the customary monthly statement updates, tips on how to earn and redeem points, and in May of this year, the first credit card offer from American Express itself. One type of email I did not see throughout the course of the first year was a member survey of any type.
Taken as a whole, the Plenti offer stream says to me that it is a multi-partner merchant funded rewards program. The difference may be subtle, but it is not communicating the nature of a true coalition program as inspired by AirMiles in Canada, Dotz in Brazil, Nectar in the UK or Payback in Germany.
I have to assume that program economics are driving this program personality as partners seem only willing to fund points for the purchase of specific merchandise in sufficient quantities to generate a return on investment. Even that structure may be in jeopardy, as reported by The Wise Marketer last week. ATT informed Plenti members on June 15 that it intends to pull back on the manner in which it funds points for services, and close reading of the email I received from ATT / Plenti revealed a rather bleak forecast for ATT participation in Plenti going forward.
After only 1 year, it seems much too early to witness cracks among the foundational partners at Plenti. After experiencing the communication stream over the first year of the program, I can attest to several gaps that need to be addressed if Plenti is to become more relevant in my daily shopping life. The extent to which Plenti can adjust its offer structure, expand its partner base, and communicate on a more personal level with its members will determine how “happy” the birthday party will be at age 2.